#MNPSVoices: Clemencia Donovan, NELB Language Coordinator
For 21 years Clemencia Donovan has been an integral part of the Metro Nashville Public Schools family. Those who interact with her are typically greeted with a warm smile and gentle spirit filled with positive energy and compassion for others.
“When I speak with someone on the phone, and when I can help them, I feel like I have accomplished something,” Donovan said. “That mother who feels better because of my help is an important accomplishment for me.”
As a Non-English Language Background (NELB) Language Coordinator, Donovan leads a team of 57 parent outreach translators and eight translation specialists as well as two interpreters/translators for special education. The group stays busy fielding between 400-450 requests a month and providing language assistance support services for a myriad of communication and marketing pieces for the district.
Within the district there are more than 144 different languages represented in Metro Schools with the largest being English, Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Somali, Burmese, Vietnamese, Nepali and Amharic. Donovan said she finds a special connection to her work through the families she serves.
“This is one of the most diverse communities I have ever lived in,” said Donovan, adding that she has also lived in cities in Florida, and in Cincinnati and St. Louis. “Nashville has so many people from all cultures, from everywhere. I believe everyone should learn another language and find a way to have cultural appreciation for others.”
A native of the Republic of Colombia, Donovan spent the early part of her career as a speech therapist working with students with learning disabilities and those who were deaf and hard-of-hearing. Her journey to the United States of America was an unexpected one that she said brought her here “for love” nearly 40 years ago. And it is love that keeps her here today – love for her daughter, grandson and MNPS co-workers.
“It has been great,” Donovan said of her time in the United States. “I have done things I never would have done and have met so many people who have become my friends.”
Her first job with MNPS was as a tutor translator working in classrooms across the district to support student achievement. She also provided support as an interpreter at parent meetings and translation for important documents. She served in this role for 14 years before moving into the Central Office, where for the last three years she has held the position of NELB Language Coordinator.
“I love my people; I love my translators,” she said. “If it were not for them I would not be here. They are so patient with me and they help me, teach me and support me.”
While Donovan admits that she is most knowledgeable in Spanish, she dabbles “fairly well” in English and has mastered the phrase “I’ll see you tomorrow” in Somali “because of its close relation to words used in the Spanish language.”
Her contributions over the years have made a difference in the growing department where, early on she worked with organizations such as the Tennessee Foreign Language to establish English classes for parents in several schools. In the future, she said she would like to see new programs implemented in the department to help move things even further along. For example, she said the development of a request system, providing pre-translated documents for teachers to access, and providing cultural sensitivity training in schools are just a few things that could better benefit the district. Another item on her wish list is having Parent Outreach Translators to provide expanded interpretation and translation services to families.